The Magazine

The Professor of Terror

Why Sami al--Arian got off this time

Jan 2, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 16 • By RONALD RADOSH
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As Wake Forest law professor Robert M. Chesney explained in a Harvard legal study, "the legislation creating 18 U.S.C. 2339B expressly stated a Congressional finding that all forms of aid-but especially financial aid-given to foreign terrorist organizations enhanced their capacity to cause harm, irrespective of the donor's intent." That groups like Hamas perform charitable functions for their constituency as well as committing acts of violence does not exempt a fundraiser from prosecution on the grounds that he only meant to help their worthwhile efforts.

Al--Arian's defense team, then-with help from the judge-succeeded in transforming a terrorism trial into a trial over free speech. The prosecution valiantly tried to prove that he was as guilty under federal law as the suicide bombers he supported and financed. The jury wasn't convinced.

A source high up in the Department of Justice who is close to the prosecution summed up the outcome this way: "Justice might have been better served by admitting up front that they were not trying to prove he ordered and funded a specific terrorist attack or suicide bombing; only that he engaged in raising money for an illegal terrorist group and arranged for its receipt by them, for which he was ably thanked. By spending much time showing the jury the horror of PIJ attacks upon civilians, the jury was reinforced in its thinking that the government had to prove Al--Arian's support of these specific acts."

At this writing, the Department of Justice is reportedly close to deciding to prosecute Al--Arian on the charges on which the jury was split. In any new trial, prosecutors would concentrate on the funding alone, a clear violation of the law. With the Patriot Act in danger of being rescinded early next year, it is essential to proceed quickly to a new trial.

Ronald Radosh, an adjunct senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, is coauthor of The Rosenberg File.